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Daniel Ruth

Democrats decide: The crass or the clueless

Are you beginning to get the sneaking suspicion your options in the Florida Democratic U.S. Senate primary are between one guy who makes Captain Bligh seem like Gilligan, and another chap who has used his U.S. House seat as if it were one long-running Mother's Day gift?

Leading in the polls is gazillionaire Jeff Greene, a walking velvet Elvis painting of cheesiness whose wealth makes Republican gubernatorial wannabe Rick Scott look like Tom Joad. One of the knocks on Greene is that in his bachelor days — when he wasn't busy treating his tenants like they were boils — his life revolved around lavish parties, beautiful women and a passion for bacchanalia that made Hedonism II look like Sesame Street.

But many public figures in their youths were hardly Sir Thomas More role models. Thomas Jefferson had Sally Hemings. John Kennedy had Judith Exner, who was also playing footsie with mobsters. Jeff Greene was pals with … well, let's put it this way, he had a Moroccan "love den" in his swank Hollywood Hills manse. When it comes to the words dignity and Jeff Greene showing up in the same sentence, that Nehru jacket left the closet a long time ago.

So sure, perhaps Greene may be more declasse than Gallagher meets Larry Flynt. But he could fit quite nicely in an institution that has included in its midst all manner of thugs, reprobates, preening peacocks and hypocritical demagogues such as Joe McCarthy, Huey Long, Jesse Helms, Richard Russell, Jim DeMint and countless others.

Exhibiting all of the good taste and personal charm of Mike Tyson (who just to happens to have been Greene's best man at his wedding) should not automatically disqualify one from holding public office. Having the interpersonal management skills of Uday and Qusay, however, is another matter.

As the St. Petersburg Times' Adam C. Smith has reported, working for Greene, most notably aboard his 145-foot yacht, which is to coral reefs what Agent Orange was to agriculture reform, is about as much fun as serving as joke writer for the Mullah Omar. Greene cultivated a reputation as a mercurial, demanding, verbally abusive boss who frequently stiffed his minions on everything from paychecks to reimbursing them for incidental out-of-pocket expenses to medical bills for injuries suffered on the job. Fun guy.

This may come as something of a revelation to Greene, but U.S. senators live and die by their staffs. They usually know more about the intricacies of legislation and government than the person with the fancy title.

If Greene were to be elected and started having more employee churn than Pickett's Charge, as a reputation grew for a Caligula-like work environment he'd find his time in the Senate a more lonely experience than the Unabomber sitting in solitary confinement. So far, Greene has pretty much limited his time on the stump by sleeping in, forgoing campaign events that begin before 11 a.m. and spending millions of dollars in advertising trying to portray his opponent, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, as a corrupt tool of special interests.

That's not a campaign. It's a political version of a staycation.

There is just one itsy-bitsy problem in attempting to characterize Meek as more ethically challenged than Bible-thumping, family man pols — like Nevada Sen. John Ensign attending prayer meetings as a great place to pick up women.

If we assume for the sake of argument that Meek never met a greased palm he wasn't willing to shake, then you also have to concede he's not very good at it.

Meek has been linked to developer Dennis Stackhouse, who paid his mother, Carrie Meek — whose seat he now holds in the House — $90,000 plus a Cadillac Escalade. A former aide to Kendrick Meek also received help in buying a house from the developer.

While some might regard all this largesse as sort of an ex post facto … gratuity … for Carrie Meek's long service in Congress, by any standard it doesn't look good for her son. But here's the other problem with Greene's efforts to paint his opponent as a compromised politician.

Forgive my Chicago background for showing just a bit here. But if Kendrick Meek is really so sleazy, so corrupt; if the congressman was so easily paid off then … ahem, where's his Escalade? Where's his 90 large? After all, if you are going to sell out, aren't you supposed to get some of the graft in your pocket, too?

Meek at first insisted he didn't know Mummy was even working for the dubious developer, which would suggest the congressman is an astoundingly incurious man. After all, wouldn't most of us sort of notice if our mothers showed up driving a brand new Cadillac Escalade? They are kind of hard not to miss.

So here's where Democrats are going into the primary later this month — a choice between Captain Queeg and a candidate with all the attention to detail of Wile E. Coyote. Sigh.

Democrats decide: The crass or the clueless 08/02/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 2, 2010 5:56pm]
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